The restaurant industry has evolved at a rapid rate. There are one million-plus restaurant locations in the US employing 15.6 million workers. That’s a lot of restaurants!

As a restaurant owner, you know the demand for restaurant staff has grown as well, and there are significant issues that have caused a shortage of available candidates. As robots become cheaper and more sophisticated, they have replaced workers in many industries.

It isn’t the end of human employees in restaurants as we know them. I don’t think that will ever happen completely. And you are still in the people business. Robots do have some key advantages over human workers but also come with disadvantages that will likely prevent robots from fully replacing humans entirely. Machines can only go so far, and robots cannot replace humans if they can’t engage with customers.

Robots? Really?

Writing this blog seems like something out of a sci-fi movie plot. I mean really, robots running around the restaurant? Who would hire the Terminator or Robo-cop? It is hard to fathom but look at all the technological changes we’ve witnessed already.

The robots that are being developed for the restaurant industry are still in their early stages of development and have not been perfected yet, but they’re coming. Thankfully, for your employees, there are some tasks that robots cannot do such as creating a personal connection with customers or adapting to last-minute changes in the menu. Robots can only do what they have been programmed to do and cannot be fully automated to replace all the tasks of your restaurant staff.

So how much is the industry going to be impacted as technology evolves and restaurants struggle to find employees?

Are Robots Replacing Our Human Staff?

No, not yet. However, robots may become more common as technology continues to develop and robotics prices continue to fall. Replacing robots with some humans is possible, but it will take time for this replacement process to occur. Adopting robots on a short-term basis or training new employees how to work with robots while maintaining customer service standards offer many challenges. Overall, robots are not yet fully capable of replacing human interaction.

Instead of replacing workers, it more likely means that restaurants will begin to use a combination of robots and real people. Hiring qualified staff continues to be a challenge – so finding ways to require less staff while continuing to create memorable dining experiences is the solution forward.

To get the latest strategies and techniques that are working right now with top restaurants to find and hire HUMAN employees, register for my FREE Online Webinar- “How To Fully Staff Your Restaurant In 45 Days Or Less.”

How to find staff for yoyr restaurant

How Are Robots Being Used In Food Service?

Robot chefs and servers have become a real thing, though it sounds so futuristic. Robots can’t replace many staff functions, but what they are being used for successfully is expediting food between the kitchen and the customer’s table. The robots can carry more items at once, aren’t concerned with heat, don’t get sick, they don’t take days off, and you only need to remember to plug them in.

A robotic kitchen will streamline some repetitive tasks and processes, cut down food waste and create more efficient inventory and labor cost controls, but there will still need to be a human touch. Implementing automation technology allows you to use less staff and prioritize customer service and experience over anything else.

Robots aren’t able to take orders or payments, and they can’t answer individual questions or offer assistance if you need a new fork or more napkins. You still need your human employees for the important parts of the customer experience like creating connections, building a relationship, personalizing the experience, and letting technology handle the repetitious, less human aspects of the job.

When looking at implementing any new technology in your business, the main detail to remember is you don’t want to negatively impact your customer’s experience. That would be a bad use of technology.

Are There Restaurants Run By Robots Now?

Restaurants that are using robots are using them for repetitive tasks such as expediting food between the kitchen and the customer’s table. So far, some restaurants have been successful with robots in this limited capacity.

Recently a restaurant near our office, Noodle Topia, began using a robot server named Bella. Here’s an account of a visit with some great videos.

The future of robotics is looking promising for many industries, including food service establishments. As technology continues to develop and prices lessen, robots may become more common. Robots will not completely replace workers in the restaurant industry; however, they may begin to be used for a combination of robots and real people.

What Food Companies Use Robots?

A number of large chains, especially in the fast-food industry, are using robots to help with various tasks in the restaurant. For example, Yum Brands Inc., which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, has been testing robots in some of its restaurants since 2016. The robots are used for tasks such as taking customers’ orders and delivering food to their tables.

In addition, many other chains are beginning to use robots as well. These include Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, Subway, and Papa John’s. In fact, it is estimated that there are over a million robots working in the restaurant industry as of 2021.

As robots and other technology become more common, many fast-food companies are finding they can use them instead of hiring employees. For example, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and A&W use self-ordering kiosks at their restaurants, which results in an estimated 16% reduction in labor costs (Nicklaus).

It is only a matter of time before automation becomes more prevalent and accessible to other restaurant types. Customers have become conditioned to less wait times, more efficient ordering, and using their smartphones to improve their efficiency.

What Do Robots In The Restaurant Cost?

Compared to hiring people, robots cost a fraction of the price. For a few thousand dollars you can buy robots that will do things such as carry food and drinks between the kitchen and customer’s table or help to automate tasks in the restaurant.

Some robots are also available on a monthly rental contract. This is a major reason why robots are being used more in restaurants – they are becoming affordable. As technology advances, it is likely that robots will become even cheaper, which could lead to an increase in their use in the restaurant industry.

In addition to affordability, robots have other advantages over human workers. They don’t get sick, they work long hours without complaining, and you only need to remember to plug them into an outlet when they’re done working. So while robots may not replace the restaurant industry quite yet, they are changing the industry and will continue to do so in the future.

For more insight into other new technology affecting the restaurant industry, see our previous post “The Biggest Restaurant Technology Trends For 2022”.

It Isn’t The End Of Restaurants As We Know Them

While robots do have a number of advantages over human workers, they also come with some disadvantages. One of the main disadvantages is that robots cannot replace the human touch. People like to be greeted by a person when they enter a restaurant, and they like to interact with other people while they are there. Robots cannot provide this type of interaction.

In addition, robots can sometimes malfunction which can lead to lost profits for businesses. Robots break down, have trouble delivering some items like soup without spilling, and can’t be told when something is wrong. They can’t even pour a glass of water. They may provide more entertainment value than actual value.

Most importantly, robots are unable to engage with customers which can lead your guests to become dissatisfied or uncomfortable at restaurants where robots are used. This could result in lost profits as well because unhappy customers tend not to come back.

Robots may be used more frequently in the restaurant industry in the future if their costs continue decreasing and they become even more reliable than today. However, robots will likely never fully replace humans since many people prefer human interaction over that of a robot’s when dining out or ordering take-out. Even though there is some evidence that shows robots have already started replacing human workers in some restaurants, they are unlikely to replace people entirely.

You Are Still In The People Business

The restaurant industry is continually changing and at a rapid pace. With the rise of apps that allow people to order food from their phones and with more restaurants experimenting with automation, it seems like robots may take over some jobs in the service sector.

But restaurants remain a people-centric business. There will always be a need for the personal, human touch in restaurants- especially independent restaurants, who are connected to their communities. Machines and robotic automation can only go so far. People dine out to have an experience, to be cared for, to be nourished. This can only be done with human interaction.

That means that the staff you hire need to be exceptional at their jobs and willing to learn to work side by side with the latest technology.

FREE Online Event That Solves Your Staffing Challenge

To find and hire the best HUMAN staff available, you need to have the best strategies and techniques in today’s employment market. Do you have a system that consistently produces qualified candidates on demand when you need them?

If not, register for my newest webinar- How To Fully Staff Your Restaurant In 45 Days Or Less

I will show you what the top restaurants are using to get fully staffed with the best HUMANS available.

Register Now For FREE
Michael Thibault
Michael Thibault

Michael Thibault

Known as “The Done For You Marketing Guy for Restaurants.” International Speaker on Restaurant Marketing. Published contributing author of 4 Marketing Books. Industry expert on Google Searches and Review Sites. Recovering Independent Restaurant Owner and Caterer of over 21 years. And, all-around good guy.

Follow Us On Social Media